Despite all of the problems on the front burner of Parliament at present it is perhaps more important than ever to pay attention to the good words and intentions that are being expressed by small groups of MPs who are debating life changing matters in relatively small groups. On Monday a debate took place on knife crime in Westminster Hall, so outside of the TV focus on the main Chamber. The debate relates to a petition which I personally have a great deal of disagreement with. However the fact that it has acted as basis for a debate means that those who have signed it have achieved something very positive. Their wish was to that people “found with a knife to get 10 years and using a knife 25 years in prison.” As I wrote a few weeks ago there are cases where people with knifes may be carrying them for very innocent reasons and indeed a more recent story I was told of was of a person who took two kitchen knifes from home in order to either kill or maim themselves. It is clear that in both cases the people concerned need to be kept outside of the criminal justice system and certainly don’t deserve to be locked up in prison. The debate on Monday was very positive and sadly there were no Sussex MPs who took part in it, so that may well mean they were absent from the session. A couple of very positive comments were made that I found encouraging. The first was from Andrew Rosindell, Conservative MP for Romford whose constituency is impacted very heavily from knife crime issues. Whilst I disagree with him most of the time and indeed some of what he said in the debate he stated:
AR: “Such is the desperation felt that people from across Havering have established a community group called Take a Knife, Save a Life. They are a completely independent group of local people who are now patrolling the streets and local parks, talking to young people, spending time with them, trying to understand what is in their minds and giving them the opportunity to anonymously hand over any knives or offensive weapons. That shows how people are desperate to do something. There is not the police cover that we want or expect, so people are taking things into their own hands in a law abiding way.”
Now I personally know as do the police services up and down the country that their presence is sometimes very positive and sometimes very confrontational. So I disagree with Andrews last sentence in the sense that sometimes we do need to find alternative mechanisms and indeed even Andrew seemed to grasp that later following a comment made by the Conservative MP for Henley whose comment was very positive. The reference is to Jodie Chesney, who was murdered on 1st March:
AR “I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, because we all have a duty to our communities—we are community leaders. I am working with local groups to fight crime. We do not have a magic wand or a direct solution, but we can play a part. I commend the youth organisations, church groups and faith organisations that are taking a lead, including the Street Pastors and Scouts. Jodie herself was an Explorer Scout—something that has been highlighted about what was a tragic, terrible crime. Community and MPs have a leadership role and it is not just down to the police and social and youth workers. We all have a part to play.”
Another contribution came from Labour MP from Croydon Central Sarah Jones who stated:
SJ: “When it comes to rehabilitation, we know that dealing with children and young people outside of the formal justice system is more effective at reducing offending than punitive responses. Involving a young person in custody makes them more likely to commit crime in the future. Young people who spoke to us at meetings of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime talked about prison as a training camp, as the things that their colleagues could teach them were likely to increase crime, rather than reduce it….
Of the 60 people who had been deeply involved in violence, half were known to children’s social services before the age of five. We knew who these children were from the very beginning. In all the cases, there were many interventions by the state, but they did not work. The state was involved in crisis management—when something happened, there was an intervention, but the state did not do the right thing to help those children.
Half of those 60 children had witnessed or experienced domestic violence. We know that violence breeds violence. It is learned behaviour. If children see it in the home, they do it later on in life. Three quarters of the children had a parental absence on the father’s side, and a quarter had an absence on the mother’s side. There were many parental issues around drug or alcohol misuse and mental health funding. A third of the children had already been excluded by the time they left primary school, and every single child who was later convicted of a crime had been excluded from school.”
Both of these statements from two people with very different perspectives make it clear that as well as returning police funding to a much higher level than at present, we also need to make some radical improvements to the public sector and work to ensure the voluntary sector is able to play a key part in such matters.